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Compliant sex: when you say ‘yes’ but mean ‘no’

By Sarah Wednesday, August 7, 2019 - 14:21
Have you ever agreed to sex when you weren't feeling it? Many women say ‘yes’ when they’d prefer not to, research shows.

You’ve had a long day and sex is the last thing on your mind. But as soon as you get into bed, it’s clear that sex is the first thing on your partner’s mind. Instead of telling him you’re too tired and passing out, you end up having intercourse. Maybe you do it because you know it’ll make him feel good. Or maybe you want to avoid his foul mood if you don’t.

Putting your feelings aside

Saying ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’ is something researchers call ‘compliant sex’. More women than men agree to have sex when they don’t want to, studies have shown. We’re not talking about having sex because your partner pressures you or forces you. This is when you just put your own feelings aside and quietly go along with what you know your partner wants.

In order to shed some light on what leads women to have sex when they don’t want to, a group of US researchers tracked down over 250 female university students. They filled in online surveys about their experiences of agreeing to sex when they weren't really into it, whether it was vaginal, anal, or oral. The researchers also asked them questions to learn more about the ways they act in relationships and during sex, as well as about their personalities.

Keeping him happy

Just under half of the women had said ‘yes’ to sex they didn’t want at some point in their life, the researchers learned. For almost 30 per cent, it was with their current or longest partner.

Sixty per cent of the women who’d had compliant sex said it happened very rarely. But then about one in four women agreed to sex they didn’t want every time, or at least seventy-five per cent of the time!

Why are these women apparently okay about having sex when really they don’t feel like it? One reason is that women do it simply because they think it will improve their relationship or keep it going strong. A woman might decide to have sex with her partner because she knows it’s something he’ll enjoy – even if she won't. Another less common reason is that women think agreeing to sex might even prevent a break-up – maybe if they say 'no', their partner will leave them.

Talk about sex!

Women who were good at communicating their sexual likes and dislikes and at letting their partners know when they weren’t in the mood were less likely to have had compliant sex, the study showed.

If any of this sounds familiar, and you’d rather it didn’t, strategies to improve your sexual assertiveness might be the way to go, say the researchers. In particular, learning to communicate your desires and to refuse sex you don’t want could help.

The other way round, try to pick up on your partners signal’s – is she really aroused and enthusiastic? Or is she just going through the motions to please you? In fact… just ask her! That’s a first step towards having sex you both enjoy.

Reference: “Dependency and Sexual Assertiveness in Relation to Acquiescing to Undesired Sex in Young Women.” Presented at the 2016 Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality Annual Meeting.

This article was first published on 22 February 2017. Persons in the picture are models. 

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